September 8, 2012

Tips for Organizing Small Classroom Spaces & Therapy Rooms

Do you need help for going from this:

to this?

Maybe we can help!

If you are a special education teacher or a speech language pathologist working in a school setting, then you are probably no stranger to working in small or tight quarters. In many cases, specialized teachers or therapists have to share or borrow spaces to serve students. Our experiences over the years have really shaped how we set up our space in ways that we feel are vital to the success of our students, whether we are working in a "broom closet" or have an entire classroom to ourselves! We've put together this list of "tips" to consider when preparing your small work space, we hope you find it helpful!

#1~Everything in your space should be PURPOSEFUL and USEFUL to you and your students. We are guilty of falling into the trap of purchasing something for our workspace because of how "cute" it is or how it looks to represent our "style" (or sometimes because it is a great "deal"). However, as the needs of our students are often changing, we have learned to "Let Go" of some of those miscellaneous items in our rooms. Now, don't get us wrong, we have certain items that are personal (like family photos) or items that contribute to our sanity (such as that picture of our toes in the sand from the summer to remind us of the peace we felt in paradise). BUT, these personal items are minimal and reserved for the "student free zone" in our space. Here is a photo of the "student free zone" in the speech room.

The biggest challenge of this task was actually determining "where" in the room this space would go. We have both had challenges in our spaces of where to place ourselves so that we make our space feel bigger and so that we can see the door and no one can creep up on us! It was also important to make it seem "un-interesting" so that students wouldn't be distracted and want to spend time in that space. Of course, the occasional wanderer travels into this zone and is promptly redirected to a "student friendly" spot.

#2~Consider reducing the amount of "Visual Noise" that is present in the space.
We all have those VISUAL TOOLS that we NEED on the wall, bulletin board, or within arms reach. The REAL question is, do they ALL need to be hanging in our rooms at the same time? Is there a better, more efficient, and less visually distracting way to access these tools? How can we prioritize the tools that are necessary for the majority of our students? These are just a few of the questions we ask ourselves when we make a choice to hang something on the wall, whether temporarily or permanently. After all, the majority of our students learn best when verbal information can be paired with VISUAL information.

We encourage you to think about ways to promote student focus and attention toward your target concept, especially when your specialized instruction "time" is limited. We highly encourage the use of visuals to assist when teaching, but we have also learned that many of the students that we work with have a hard time focusing their attention and/or have difficulty learning in an environment with too much visual stimulation. 

In the speech room, the "permanent" visuals are now limited to The Whole Body Listening Visual, The Speech Target, the Good Speech Posture Poster the Speech Lab visual schedule. I also made a small poster that says "Everything we Say and Do in the Speech Room must be Rated E or G" (some of my students were getting a little out of hand!). Find it Here.

Here are some photos of the visuals hanging in our rooms:

This incentive system is located on the wall BEHIND where the students sit.
So, they sit with their backs to this board, and that REALLY helps!

Another good idea for decreasing visual noise is to cover open book shelves. As I visited many classroom websites, this has been a fairly common theme. In the speech room, this was accomplished with curtains and tension rods. We also focused on choosing fabric that wasn't too visually stimulating. With this simple idea, the "game" shelf (that every student loves to browse in) went from this:

to this,

This was the "old" curtain. . .

to this!

Now, this shelf is MUCH LESS visually distracting, and the
students are less likely to inquire about the contents of the shelf.

Decreasing the "visual noise" in this space has probably been the most NOTICEABLE change. This year, everyone (students included) who walks into the speech room has either said that the room feels "bigger", "calmer", or "welcoming". Many have also asked if I took anything out of the room. All that changed was removing unnecessary visuals from the wall and moving them to a place where I can pull them when needed, and changing the "coverings". What a difference it has made!

#3-Consider creating "Zones" for different types of activities.
We already mentioned the "student free" zone; every teacher and therapist needs one! But, we also have zones in the speech therapy room for different types of learning and different types of learners.

The speech therapy room is divided into three main "zones": The Flower Table, The Carpet, and The Computer.

The Flower Table is where most of the speech therapy takes place for the school-aged population. This is where ALL kinds of therapy happens from articulation games, to story telling/retelling, to Play Dough play. This table is AWESOME! It has space for 6 people and offers lots of space for all kinds of activities.

The Carpet is where the majority of speech therapy takes place for the 3-5 year old population including story-based therapy, play-based therapy, and movement activities. The carpet is small, about 16 X 20, so as not to overtake the small therapy space. It's just enough room for 2-4 small children. The rolling easel pictured also has a felt board on the other side. The Rolling stool is great because you can move around quickly and are close the the floor, and it even has a little tray underneath for storing materials.

We recognize that many small spaces don't often have enough room for a teacher zone, a table, AND a carpet area; however, we highly encourage you to consider your population and the amount of "free movement" space that they might need. In such cases, maybe we can combine an area such as the teacher space and table space.

Although it's not pictured here, The Computer is very useful for lots of therapy activities such as watching video models, engaging in educational & motivational computer programs, and using PowerPoint presentations for articulation practice or auditory bombardment.


We hope you find these simple tips helpful when setting up, organizing or re-organizing your small space! We hope to have pictures up soon of Kelley's special education room where we collaboratively teach many of our students. We'd also love to hear from you! What have you used in your small space to maintain an inviting and functional learning environment?



  1. Love the flower table! I've never seen one like that before! I have a kidney shaped table but it is hard to seat 6. Great post - I love organization tips and the term 'visual noise' is a great way to put it!!

    - Sasha
    The Autism Helper

    1. Glad to hear you find the tips helpful! Kelley used the term "visual noise" and it has stuck with me and makes so much sense! Thanks for reading! ~Orlanda

  2. I'm going to use the "Rated G" sign, that's language my middle schoolers will def. understand. Great idea!

    1. Awesome! This could easily be modified to "PG" or "E-10+"! When I stated it that way, my kids seemed to really understand!


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